What Is Customer Service?

Customer service is not customer satisfaction as reported by customer satisfaction surveys. Read on to learn the real meaning of customer service.Customer service blackboardCustomer service, like a brand, is what the customer perceives and remembers of the service they received.

What a customer perceives is the service they receive is not necessarily the service they actually receive.

Several published studies reveal that the mood of the customer has a significant impact on the perception of the service received.

For example, if a customer has been waiting for a long time in a check-in queue, the perception of the friendliness of the person at the check-in desk deteriorates.

Conversely, studies have shown that people waiting a long time for elevators due to the slow speed of the elevator have a better perception of the experience of waiting if there is some distraction such as a mirror in the elevator lobby.

Golfers who have had a bad day on the course are likely to have a worse perception of the service at the clubhouse than those who have had a good day.

What a customer remembers about a service is not just dependent on the usual suspects of first and last impressions. It is dependent on the “moments of truth”, a phrase coined by Jan Carlson from Scandinavian Airlines.

For an organisation in the service industry, there may be twenty or thirty moments of truth in its provision of service. A moment of truth is when an interaction occurs between a customer and the service provider that can leave a lasting positive or negative impression on a customer.

Moments of truth in the hospitality industry, for example, will undoubtedly include, but not be limited to, booking the room, check-in, check-out, dinner reservations, dinner ordering, dinner presentation, eating (quality and quantity of food) and laundry receipt.

Understanding the moments of truth that are important to an organisation’s customers by segment is the key to understanding what is good customer service.

Completing customer satisfaction surveys is not a reliable way of determining moments of truth for two reasons.

Firstly, the design of most satisfaction surveys is usually poor. They ask a series of questions which request an opinion on how well the service provider performed. The opinion is prompted by a question similar to, “The booking was handled with efficiency and attention to my needs” and the answers range from totally disagree to totally agree on a five point scale.

Surveys designed this way give a misleading view as they do not ask a question which seeks to understand the importance of the particular services prior to the request for an opinion.

A request for a response to a statement such as, “The booking process was very important to my level of enjoyment during my stay”, prior to, “How well did we perform?”, will at least make it clear whether the service we provided really mattered or not, independent of whether we provided the service well, or not. In most cases, only three or four of the “services” provided in a list of ten questions will actually be important.

The second reason why customer satisfaction surveys are unreliable is that even if they are designed well, satisfaction surveys tend to condition the recipients to give a response.

In a study reported in the Harvard Business Review in 1995, Jones and Sasser noted that customer retention levels of around forty percent correlated to an average rating of “satisfied” and did not reach 80% until the average rating reached very satisfied.

Mercer reported in a separate study that eighty percent of customers who churned from an internet service provider had responded that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their service.

Relying on customer satisfaction surveys to determine what good customer service is and how well an organisation has performed is risky at best.

Understanding what good customer service is begins with mapping a generic customer’s experience and determining the moments of truth.

It is insufficient, however, to only have a generic organisational view of the map. To make use of the map to improve customer service, the view of each significant target segment must be understood to ensure that appropriate service is given at appropriate moments.

Surveys of customers’ actual experiences, asking them what has frustrated them in the past are an acceptable way to gather information. Using customer satisfaction surveys which only ask, “How well did we do?”, are not.

Customer complaints are a source of extra material but given that only a small percentage of customers who are dissatisfied actually fill them out, they cannot be the sole source of information.

The employees of an organisation are also a good source of information to determine the moments of truth. Employees see first hand the body language, the tone and pace of voice and the circumstances that surveys will never see and that customers will sometimes not realise is happening.

What segmentation is used is naturally dependent on the nature of the organisation, its goal and the level of data it can collect. However, its ability to detect a particular segment and offer a differentiated service during the day-to-day course of business is the most important determinant of the nature and level of segmentation to use.

Determining, at each moment of truth, for each segment, what impacts on the customer’s perception and memory of the service is the key to providing good service.

For example, in the hospitality industry, research by Liljander and Mattson revealed three personal factors (and the general environment) impact on perception of service. The personal factors are:

– The level of concern shown for the individual customer

– The level of friendliness shown towards the customer

– The level of civility shown towards the customer

Having someone wait in line at check-in can cause a negative impression. Showing genuine concern at the length of their wait and helping to make the next interaction after check-in easy in a friendly and helpful manner can reduce that negative impact to zero.

By understanding what each target segment requires at the moments of truth relevant to the segment enables organisations to develop and execute plans to improve the perception and the memory of the interactions that are important.

Customers are then more likely to be genuinely satisfied and return..

About the Author

Kevin Dwyer is Director of Change Factory. Change Factory helps organisations who do not like their business outcomes to get better outcomes by changing people’s behaviour. Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability to achieve their desired business outcomes.

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